Jesus is Lord, but what does that mean?
Recently someone asked me a question regarding Jesus being Lord. It has spurred me to ponder this word more, and as I thought through it, I was reminded of a good portion of a Systematic Theology that talks about Jesus being called “Lord.” For those of you studying James along with Ventura Baptist Church, this can help us to understand more fullness to what James means when he calls Jesus “Lord” in both 1:1 and 2:1. For those of you who may wonder how the Bible address Jesus being God, this can be a wonderful tool to point you to the Scriptures!
b. The Word Lord (Kyrios) Used of Christ: Sometimes the word Lord (Gk. kyrios) is used simply as a polite address to a superior, roughly equivalent to our word sir (see Matt. 13:27; 21:30; 27:63; John 4:11). Sometimes it can simply mean “master” of a servant or slave (Matt. 6:24; 21:40). Yet the same word is also used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which was commonly used at the tiem fo Christ) as a translation for the Hebrew yhwh, “Yahweh,” or (as it is frequently translated) “The LORD,” or “Jehovah.” the word kyrios is used to translate the name of the Lord 6,814 times in the Greek Old Testament. Therefore, any Greek-speaking reader at the time of the New Testament who had any knowledge at all of the Greek Old Testament would have recognized that, in contexts where it was appropriate, the word “Lord” was the name of the one who was the Creator and Sustainer of heaven and earth, the omnipotent God.
Now there are many instances in the New Testament where “Lord is used of Christ in what can only be understood as this strong Old Testament sense, “the Lord” who is Yahweh or God himself. This use of the word “Lord” is quite striking in the word of the angel to the shepherds of Bethlehem: “For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Though these words are familiar to use from frequent reading of the Christmas story, we should realize how surprising it would be to any first-century Jew to hear that someone born as a baby was the “Christ” (or “Messiah”), and, moreover, that this one who was the Messiah was also “The Lord” – that is, the Lord God himself! The amazing force of the angel’s statement, which the shepherds could hardly believe, was to say, essentially, “Today in Bethlehem a baby has been born who is your Savior and your Messiah, and who is also God himself.” It is not surprising that “all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them” (Luke 2:18).
When Mary comes to visit Elizabeth several months before Jesus is to be born, Elizabeth says, “Why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43). Because Jesus was not even born, Elizabeth could not be using the word “Lord” to mean something like human “master.” She must rather be using it in the strong Old Testament sense, giving an amazing sense to the sentence: ‘Why is this granted me, that the mother of the Lord God himself should come to me?” Though this is a very strong statement, it is difficult to understand the word “Lord” in this context in any weaker sense.
We see another example when Matthew says that John the Baptist is the one who cries out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Matt. 3:3). In doing this John is quoting Isaiah 40:3, which speaks about the Lord God himself coming among his people. but the contest applies this passage to John’s role of preparing the way for Jesus to come. The implication is that when Jesus comes, the Lord himself will come.
Jesus also identifies himself as the sovereign Lord of the Old Testament when he asks the Pharisees about Psalm 110:1, the Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I put your enemies under your feet” (Matt. 22:44). the force of this statement is that “God the Father said to God the Son [David’s Lord], ‘Sit at my right hand. . . .'” The Pharisees know he is talking about himself and identifying himself as one worthy of the Old Testament title kyrios, “Lord.”
Such usage is seen frequently in the Epistles, where “the Lord” is a common name to refer to Christ. Paul says “there is one god, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whome are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Cor. 8:6; cf. 12:3, and many other passages in the Pauline epistles).
A particularly clear passage is found in Hebrews 1, where the author quotes Psalm 102, which speaks about the work of the Lord in creation and applies it to Christ:
You, Lord, founded the earth in the beginning
and the heavens are the work of your hands;
they will perish, but you remain;
they will all grow old like a garment,
like a mantle you will roll them up,
and they will be changed.
But you are the same,
and your years will never end. (Heb. 1:10-12)
Here Christ is explicitly spoken of as the eternal Lord of heaven and earth who created all things and will remain the same forever. Such strong usage of the term “Lord” to refer to Christ culminates in revelation 19:16, where we see Christ returning as conquering King, and “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords.”